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Thread: Sharpening European Swords for Cutting

  1. #1

    Sharpening European Swords for Cutting

    Hey all,

    Inspired by the big discussion in the Viking Test Cuts thread on the differences between sharpening knives and sharpening swords, I thought I'd ask the forum for any sharpening references (online or otherwise). I'd also appreciate advice on how to sharpen European swords for their best cutting performance.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
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    There are a lot of ways you can sharpen an European sword, falling back to traditional Japanese sharpening is really one of the best
    http://www.ksky.ne.jp/~sumie99/togi,process.html Very traditional, you do not have to go this far, but understanding the art from its foundations really does help

    Here is Brian VanSpeybroech hybrid polish http://home.mchsi.com/~hermits/Brian...Edged_Art.html.

    The most important thing to keep in mind is a good polish or sharpening takes a bit of time, you can not rush the job with power tools. you can though use a large veraity of modern hand tools and techniques

    Draw Filing is one of the bake techniques to learn.
    the photos are gone from this thread http://www.swordforum.com/forums/sho...highlight=draw but the idea is still there.

    I use the same motions with a synthetic sanding block from Harbor Fright, it has a 200, 300, 400 and 600 grit side, so you cover a lot of ground and used with soapy water they will last a long time.

    you can do the same with natural stones but the take a shape or wear so you have to maintain them as well.
    Sanding blocks and wet dry sand paper work very well.

  3. #3
    European swords are different from Japanese swords, they are not sharpened/polished along the entire edge plane. As such, you CAN rush it with power tools, in fact there is every indication that is exactly how they were sharpened in period, on large grinding stones (water powered, usually) and then finished by hand tools for the final polishing.

    If you want to polish a European sword, you have two options, by hand, or by machine.

    Either way, you need to find (or create) the final edge bevel.

    Option 1, Hand tools: If you have a previously sharp sword you want to sharpen or a factory edge you want to improve, take a small stone, about 600 grit (ceramic rods work great) and run it along the edge at about a 20 degree angle. Look very closely at the mark it leaves. It should leave a tiny thin 1-2mm shiny line right along the very edge. If so, you have the right angle. If you don't see anything, your angle is too big (too close to being perpendicular), if you see a wider line, you angle is too flat (too close to being parallel). If the line is small but not on the edge, you've hit a seconday bevel of some sort (or part of the apple seed shape).

    Once you find the right angle, go over the edge with 600 grit, then graduate to a 1500+ grit for polishing. I like 2500. Then finish off with a leather strop. You can search Youtube for videos of how to use a strop, it's easy, and you can even use a leather belt.

    This will take you hours and can be screwed up with one moment of not paying attention.

    Option 2, power tools. This is dangerous. If you don't know how to sharpen, you can ruin a sword. Badly. I suggest buying a cheap sword to screw around with until you learn to use your grinder.

    First, buy this: http://www.harborfreight.com/1-inch-...nder-2485.html

    Remove all the safety crap and belt backing. Buy youself a series of 1x30 belts: 120, 240, 320 (<--these are only for shaping new edges), 600, 1000-1500, 2500, leather. The belts will cost you more than the grinder, which is only 40 bucks.


    Now, find the edge angle as described above. Note the angle of the stone when your shiny line is in the right place. The grinder should do the same thing, make a tiny shiny line along the very edge. You can try to hold that angle against your grinder by eye, or make some sort of angle guide. I use a miter saw to cut the angle out of a 2x4 then stand that 2x4 next to the grinder. I lay the sword on the guide, see the angle, then hold that angle to the grinder. If I feel I'm losing it, I return it to the guide and "reaquire" it.


    Once you find your angle or set up your angle guide, run the sword along the grinder at that angle, press gently until the belt deforms slightly and use your body/legs, not your arms, to move the sword along the grinder. Flip it around to get the other edge, then go to the other side of the grinder to get the other side of each edge. Run the sword along the grinder a few times per edge. If sharpening an existing edge, you can start with 1000 to 1500, or even 2500, if it's already sharp and you want it crazy sharp. If it's dull, start with 600. If that doesn't work, if it's really really dull, start with 340. Finish it off with the leather belt. 2500 will leave a tiny line of metal risidue on the edge that will fold over making it feel dull or raspy. The leather removes this and micro-polishes the edge. You can do this by hand with a strop, but it's easier/faster on the belt.

  4. #4
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    I have Dremel brand belt sander set up almost exactly as Mike described it. I picked it up at a swap-meet so I am not sure they are available new. Mike is correct the bevel of a European sword is different, I did not think to include that. if you do use power tools be careful with the pressure you apply, the tool can hog off a lot of steel in a few moments.

  5. #5
    Hi David,

    That's why I like flexible belt grinders, they are very forgiving and easy to use. And the one I linked to is so cheap it's almost a crime not to own one.

    Also, the flexible belt lets you make an appleseed edge shape, whereas a rigid belt would not.

  6. #6
    Hi Mike,

    You mentioned that hand sharpening can take many hours, and this rings true from my previous experience sharpening tools, knives etc. Do you find, for a sword for test cutting, it will save time (and is possibly quite historical) to focus on hand sharpening only the last half of the blade (the foible) to the tip (including the CoP) while leaving the forte as is? Or do you prefer to sharpen the entire length, even if sharpening by hand?

    Cheers,

    Bill

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by William Carew View Post
    Hi Mike,

    You mentioned that hand sharpening can take many hours, and this rings true from my previous experience sharpening tools, knives etc. Do you find, for a sword for test cutting, it will save time (and is possibly quite historical) to focus on hand sharpening only the last half of the blade (the foible) to the tip (including the CoP) while leaving the forte as is? Or do you prefer to sharpen the entire length, even if sharpening by hand?

    Cheers,

    Bill
    I am very lazy and will only sharpen half the blade even if working with a grinder.

    I don't know what was historically correct on this particular point, but I know what I need and don't need in my swords.

  8. #8
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    my belt sander has the guard and safety stuff off it so it has the flex your talking bout Mike. I also have started using wine corks, the natural cork is a bit soft and really good for finishing work it sort of takes the shape of the blade. the synthetic corks are either soft or hard, the hard ones are a good start. I wrap the sand paper around the cork. I do the work right by the kitchen sink because have nice granite counter tops and leave the water on drip to keep the sandpaper wet. I guess i should take photos. I am working on a blade now.

    Roland the thing that I would say the most is you have to be willing to invest first in time then in proper tools. The time is to learn what works for you, I think that my techniques might be just that, 'mine'. You also have to be willing to invest in the blades it takes to learn what works, not just the tools

  9. #9
    Thanks everyone! This is all super helpful. If I run into any other issues/questions I'll make sure to pass them along.

  10. #10
    I made a mistake...the finishing belt I use is 2000 grit, not 2500. It's a 3M Trizact belt available from Lee Valley tools for about 7 bucks each.

  11. #11
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    That belt Sander that Michael recommends is a work horse. I have had one for 10 years just like it and the only problem I have had was needing to get rid of the power switch. Bypassed it and now it just plugs in to make it run. It was an easy fix. Well worth the money.

    Never tried sharpening a sword with it though. But use the heck out of it to clean up the edges of the armoring operation.
    Jeff Richardson
    http://duellatoria.com/

    "The Will is the captain general of our army and our fortress" 1587 Ghisliero pg. 108

  12. #12
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    Bypassed it and now it just plugs in to make it run. It was an easy fix.
    Don't try this at home, we are trained professionals

    Seems to me wiring a foot switch as a replacement would be a better repair and upgrade Then again, you could just wrap the cord around your foot to yank it out

    Cheers

    Hotspur; Joking a little bit but please keep safety in mind.

  13. #13
    Michael -

    If you take requests, your sharpening process would be a great candidate for one of your videos. (Although I do realize that it's not as sexy as cutting things up...)

    Thanks for all the discussion on sharpening.

    Regards,

    -Tyson
    Tyson Wright
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    Sacramento Sword School

    There is no movement in this science which does not have a weakness - Diogo Gomes de Figueyredo, Oplosophia
    On the contrary, I’ve always said and it’s remained clear to me through experience that every dritto has its riverso, that is, that every blow has its parry. - Giovanni dall’Agocchie
    , Dell’Arte di Scrimia

  14. #14
    I've thought about it, but it's very possible to screw things up when sharpening, especially with a belt grinder, and I don't want a bunch of people angry with me beause I messed up their favorite swords.

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